Tag Archives: Royal Artillery Crete 1897

Artillery on Crete, 1897-1898

While one of the main focuses of the Governments of the European Powers in seeking to pacify Crete was the provision of sufficient naval forces and infantry to keep the warring factions apart, they were also faced with the fact that the Cretan Christians also had artillery at their disposal. This was highlighted when Rear-Admiral Harris, the then Senior British Naval Officer on Crete, referring to the evacuation of Greek troops from Crete in May 1897, reported:

‘The question of artillery has given much trouble. It was obviously most undesirable to have guns left behind in the hands of the insurgents when the whole object of the Powers is to pacify the island. After much trouble and insistence on the part of the Admirals, four of the six guns stated by the Greeks to belong entirely to the Cretans are to be embarked with the Greek troops, the other two are said to be on Akrotiri, and the Admirals have made a peremptory condition that they also shall be taken away.

The western end of the island will then, I believe, be free from insurgent artillery; though we know that there are four to six 7-centim. Krupp guns to the eastward, we cannot immediately connect them with the Greek troops or Government, though there is not much doubt that they indirectly or otherwise provided them.’[1]

In the end, the Royal Navy oversaw the evacuation of 6 field guns, 12 horses, 53 mules and 233 cases of artillery ammunition.[2]

(An internet search suggests that although described by the British as 7cm (70mm) there wasn’t a 70mm Krupps gun at this time: the pieces in question could possibly either have been 65/66mm guns or 60mm mountain guns. To add to the confusion, the Ottoman Empire was, at this time, the world’s largest importer of Krupp guns, purchasing 3,943 Krupp guns of various types between 1854 and 1912.[3])

To counter the threat of Greek/Cretan Christian artillery, in the early stages of the Intervention, both the Powers and the Ottoman military supplied artillery to the island.

Ottoman field artillery beneath what appear to be an Italian flag.

Ottoman field artillery beneath what appear to be an Italian flag.

An illustration from an Italian magazine shows Ottoman artillery beneath what is apparently an Italian flag.



Italian Guns Suda Bay April 1897

Italian Guns Suda Bay April 1897


It would appear that the French forces also had access to artillery, whether their own, Ottoman or that landed from H.M.S Anson. Captain Egerton recorded that:

“Last night [10th April 1897] at 6.30 p.m. the International Force at Soubaschi fired 5 shots from the 9 pdr. The fire–eating Perignon[?] who commands will someday if he irritates these fellows too much, bring Vassos about his ears – Vassos’ outposts are only about a mile away. – G.E. “[4]

In addition to the Royal Artillery Mountain Battery stationed in Crete in the early stages of the Intervention, following the events in Candia in September 1896 the Royal Navy reinforced the town, landing field artillery.

Royal Navy field guns being landed at Candia October 1898

Royal Navy field guns being landed at Candia October 1898




[1] ADM 116/92 Rear-Admiral Harris, Suda Bay, to Admiral Sir J. Hopkins, C in C Mediterranean Fleet, Malta. 23 May 1897

[2] ADM116/116 Captain Sir R. Poole, HMS Hawke, to Rear-Admiral Harris. 20 May 1897.

[3] Donald J. Stocker, Jonathan A. Grant. Girding for Battle: The Arms Trade in a Global Perspective, 1815-1940. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, pp.31-32.

[4] NAM 6807-171. Diary of the detachment 1st BN. Seaforth Highlanders at Canea Crete During the early days of the international Occupation 1897.



Bringing up the big guns.

4th Mountain Battery Royal Artillery. Candia 1897.

4th Mountain Battery Royal Artillery. Candia 1897.

The picture shows the Royal Artillery, 4th Mountain Battery, commanded by Major H.C.C.D Simpson, who arrived in Candia on 26th April 1897 on S.S. Samaria.

An ‘Extract from Digest of Services of the above Battery’ dated 9th December 1898 and lodged in the Royal Artillery Archives, states that they were equipped with 2.5-inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns, weighing 400 lbs. each.  Assuming that this is not simply a photograph of them being inspected by Colonel Herbert Chermside, Commander of the British force at the time, on 29th April, it was probably taken on either one of two parades.

The first was on 4th May, at a… ‘General review Order parade held in honour of Italian Troops, who marched past and were saluted by each British unit.’

Alternatively, it was taken on 22nd June at a ‘Special Parade held in honour of Her Majesty the Queen, having completed her 60th year of reign, and was inspected by the Admirals of the French, Russian, Austrian, Italian and English Fleet, and Russian and Italian Military Commanders.’

The Battery doesn’t appear to have fired a shot in anger but was deployed on at least two occasions.

On 7th June the …‘Centre Section under Captain C. (D?) Smeaton formed part of a force sent to {illegible in original} in the Insurgents area, for the purpose of repairing the aqueduct. The other troops were; 2 companies Seaforth Highlanders, a few Royal Engineers, and 1 Officer,25 men, 36th Italian Infantry. All under the Command of Major Campbell, Seaforth Highlanders.’ On 9th June Chermside reported to the Secretary of State for War… ‘British troops, with representative Italian detachment, encamped on Eastern aqueduct since 7 June; completely successful (in executing?) necessary repairs from sources, 9 miles from Candia. In accordance with agreement with Insurgent leaders no incident. [1]

On 9th (?) December, the bulk of the Battery having returned to Malta on S. S. Jelunga on November 21st, the remaining detachment …‘accompanied Sir Herbert Chermside to the outposts, and [was] fired on for ½ hour by Insurgents.’ * This detachment arrived back in Malta, via S.S. Augustine, on 21st December 1897.

Two men of No.4 Battery died… ‘from sickness incurred during the period the battery was serving with the Cretan International Force.’ Bombardier George Barrett, died 9th August 1897, and Gunner George Hogben, died 28th December 1897. Both appear to have died on Malta, and are buried there: their names do not appear on any of the memorials in Crete.

Maltese memorial to Royal Artillery dead.

Maltese memorial to Royal Artillery dead.

In addition to No. 4 Mountain Battery, in 1898,… ‘Lt G H Pickard and 55 men of 5 Coy. [Eastern Division, Royal Artillery,] went to Crete when trouble broke out between the Greek and Turkish communities. The men withdrew in May 1899.’[2]

*Colonel Herbert Chermside became Colonel Sir Herbert Chermside by virtue of being made a KCMG in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Honours list on 22nd June 1897.

[1] National Archive WO33/149. Telegram, Colonel Chermside to Secretary of State for War. 9th  June 1897.

[2] Photograph of memorial and details of Royal Artillery casualties at: http://www.maltaramc.com/regmltgar/royalart.html

Royal Artillery in Candia.

Royal Artillery, Candia Ramparts. 1897

Royal Artillery, Candia Ramparts. 1897

Although undated and giving little or no information other than it’s the English in Candia, the photograph has been provisionally identified as members of the Royal Artillery manning 2.5 inch Rifled Muzzle Loading guns, mounted on Whitworth carriages. This being so, it shows the No. 4 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery sometime between 26th April and late December 1897, the only time during which the Royal Artillery served on Crete. (The final departure date is illegible on the original record, but the H.Q. Company left on 21st November 1897 and the whole detachment were in Malta  by 21st December.) Capt. Brian Payne R.A. retired, to whom many thanks go for his assistance with this post, pointed out that the picture is obviously staged in that there is no ammunition visible and the guns are not run up to the embrasures. Had they been fired in this position there would have been rather a lot of debris flying about!

According to the Battery diary, their time was split between peace keeping duties and parades. In pursuit of the former, in addition to manning the guns on the ramparts of Candia, on at least one occasion they sent a detachment out into the Insurgent controlled area for 5 days to support the Seaforth Higlanders given the job of repairing the aqueduct supplying the bulk of Candia’s water. No hostile activity is recorded on this occasion. However, on 31st  July , “[p]reparation  [was made] for anticipated by Turkish Irregulars” – the word ‘mob’ is struck through on the original. Later, on 4th August the “O/C Battery was stoned by [the] mob.” Their final ‘action’ appears to have occurred in December when a detachment “…accompanied Sir Herbert Chermside  to outposts, and [was] fired on for 1/2 hour by [Christian] Insurgents.” In spite of the provocations from both sides, and it seems that they were taking an even handed approach to the Cretan situation and upsetting both sides equally, there is no record that at any time that the Royal Artillery were required to use their guns in anger.

On a more peaceful, but no less martial, note, the Battery participated in two big parades alongside detachments from the other International forces. On the first, which took place on 4th May 1897,  they ” [t]ook part in [a] General Review order parade, held in honour of Italian troops, who marched past and were saluted by each British unit.” Then on 22nd June they “[t]ook part in a special parade held in honour of Her Majesty the Queen, having completed her 60th year of reign, and was inspected by the Admirals of the French, Russian, Austrian, Italian and English Fleets, and Russian and Italian Military Commanders.



Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, 22 June 1897

Having, for reasons best known to themselves, celebrated the Italians with a parade held in their honour on 4 May 1897, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on 22nd June 1897 was too good an opportunity for the British contingent on Crete to miss. Accordingly a further parade was organised, the highlight of which appears to have been a march-past by the two British battalions then on the island; the 1/Seaforths and the 1/Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

1/Seaforth Highlanders  marching past International Admirals

1/Seaforth Highlanders marching past International Admirals

Crete 1897 Queen Victoria jubilee Seaforths salute Candia

1/Seaforth Highlanders firing salute on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

(The natives seem somewhat underwhelmed; most seem more interested in the camera.)

Royal Welsh Fusiliers, lead by their Pioneers, march past International Admirals.

Royal Welsh Fusiliers, lead by their Pioneers, march past International Admirals.

The records also indicate that the Royal Artillery battery on the island, No. 4 Mountain Battery, also took part in the parade. In addition. the ships from the various fleets also joined in the festivities; one assumes that their salute invoked a rather greater reaction than did that of the Seaforths.

Ships oif the International Fleet saluting Queen Victoria's Jubilee. 22 June 1897

Ships oif the International Fleet saluting Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. 22 June 1897

The Jubilee was further celebrated at a reception in Canea at which the Seaforth Highlanders ‘executed national dances,’ to the apparent enjoyment of the audience.*

Photographs used by kind permission of Alex Graeme and taken by his Grandfather.

*National Archive, Foreign Office file FO 195/1983, From Crete. Biliotti to Currie, 24 June 1897.